Category Archives: EMU

10/7/16: Europe’s Banks: Dinosaurs On Their Last Legs?


Europe's banks have been back in the crosshair of the markets in recent weeks, with new attention to their multiple problems catalysed by the Brexit vote.

I spoke on the matter in a brief interview with UTV here: http://utv.ie/playlists/default.aspx?bcid=5026776052001.

Now, Bloomberg have put together a (very concise) summary of some of the key problems the banks face: "Europe's banks have been a focal point of investor skittishness since Britons voted to leave the European Union, but reasons to be worried about financial firms pre-date the referendum. Whether it be the mountain of non-performing loans, the challenge from fintech firms and alternative lenders encroaching on what was once their turf, or rock bottom interest rates eroding margins, the problems facing Europe's lenders are mammoth."

To summarise the whole rotten lot: European banks (as a sector)

  • Cannot properly lend and price risk (hence, a gargantuan mountain of Non-Performing Loans sitting on their books that they can't deleverage out, exemplified by Italian, Slovenian, Spanish, Portuguese, Cypriot, Greek, Irish, and even, albeit to a lesser extent, German, Dutch, Belgian and Austrian banks);
  • Cannot make profit even in this extremely low funding cost environment (because they cannot lend properly, while controlling their operating costs, and instead resort to 'lending' money to governments at negative yields);
  • Cannot structure their capital (CoCos madness anyone?);
  • Cannot compete with more agile fintech challengers (because the dinosaur mentality and hierarchical structures of traditional banking prevents real innovation permeating banks' strategies and operations);
  • Cannot reform their business models to reflect changing nature of their customers demands (because they simply no longer can think of their customers needs); and
  • Cannot succeed in their traditional markets and services (despite being heavily shielded from competition by regulators and subsidised by the governments).
Instead of whingeing about the banks' plight, we should focus on the banks' resound failures and stop giving custom to the patrician incumbents. Let competition restructure Europe's banking sector. The only thing that sustains Europe's banks today is national- and ECB-level regulatory protectionism that contains competition within the core set of banking services. It is only a matter of time before M&As and organic build up of fintech players will blow this cozy cartel up from the inside. So regulators today have two options: keep pretending that this won't happen and keep granting banks a license to milk their customers and monetary systems; or open the hatches and let the fresh air in.

16/2/15: Euro v ‘Sustainable Growth’: Mythology of Brussels Economics


Euro existence has been invariably linked to the promise of a 'sustainable' prosperity. From days when it was just a dream of a handful of European integrationists through today.  Which means that we can have a simple and effective test for the raison d'ĂȘtre of common currency union: how did GDP per capita fare since the euro introduction.

So let's take a simple change in GDP per capita, expressed in constant prices (controlling, therefore, for inflation) across the advanced economies around the world. Chart below details annualised rates of growth achieved between the end of 1999 and the end of 2014.


Excluding the most recent addition to the euro area, let's consider the original EU12. Across all advanced economies (34 of them), average annualised rate of real GDP per capita growth was 1.57%. Across the euro area 12 it was 0.727% - less than 1/2 of the average. Average for non-euro area 12 states was 2.126% or almost 3 times the euro area 12 average.

All of this translates into a massive gap between the euro area 12 (euro 'growthology' states that supported from the start the idea of 'sustainable' growth based on the EMU) and the rest of the advanced economies. In cumulative terms - over 2000-2014, EA12 states clocked growth of 11.674% in terms of their real GDP per capita. Over the same period of time, ex-EA12 advanced economies managed to grow on average by 40.01%.


Oh dear... even if you are not Italy or Cyprus (the latter made utterly insolvent by the EU inept 'resolution' of the Greek crisis and then promptly accused of causing this disaster upon itself - just to ad an insult to an injury), even if you are the 'best in the class' Ireland... within the euro, you are screwed.

So the key question is: where is the evidence that having a common currency results in better economic outcomes? Key answer is: nowhere.